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Step 3: Align means and ends
This exercise provides a first introduction to PBL and the seven-step approach.
As collaboration is an important aspect of PBL, the topic of the first task they discuss is group development and group dynamics – reflecting the situation they are actually facing.
By making group work the subject of study and discussion, it becomes easier to talk about the real-life experiences and expectation student have. This way, a more personal reflection on learning is combined with a first glance at doing and using research, making a critical discussion of the literature a logical next step during the post discussion.
After the session, we also evaluate this first discussion, using questions such as:
–> Can you describe what happened during the discussion?
–> Was this what you expected of a PBL discussion?
–> What went well? And what could be improved?
Stage 1: Mapping teaching & learning styles – Stage 3: Align means and ends
At DKE, we identified a set of key features that define our Project Centered approach to learning. We then created a playful approach for our introduction, revolving around one essential aspect of PCL: team work.
At the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, DKE students took part in an alternate reality game, a Covid-proof interactive event designed for the introduction days of the academic year of 2020-2021. Students were confronted with various strange situations. Those who logged in early to their faculty introduction programme encountered unexpected footage: before the virtual welcome address, men and women in black could be seen combing the lecture halls and escorting speakers in and out.
Through a series of online puzzles disguised as group assignments – a hallmark of the project-centred learning method of the programme – students uncovered a wild plot as they raced through puzzles, collaborating within and outside of their group through Zoom, Google Docs, Whatsapp and UM’s custom-built social media platform.
Through the game, students are actively exploring and practicing many aspects of Project Centered Learning:
–> It was not clear in advance where it was going (the plot only became clear along the way: kidnapping, bomb, villain, etc.)
–> After an introductory presentation in groups of 6-8ish (online, Zoom), with a supervisor we started with two assignments – varying from a quiz (clear assignments) to a fake broken webpage (very vague, much self-direction needed)
–> Division of roles in groups stimulated by the supervisor (who takes minutes, who coordinates with other groups, etc.)
–> Assignments all had double bottom / hints to solve the bigger plot > extra effort from students was needed to bring it to a successful conclusion (problem solving) instead of just doing the assignment stupidly
–> Group dynamics were made challenging as each group had to send someone away to an assignment on location (and keep in touch as well).
–> All groups then had to work together, organize / exchange information to solve the big problem.
Stage 3: Align means and ends
At the Maastricht Sustainability Institute, teaching and learning in the master takes place in a ‘flipped classroom’ format. Small groups of 5 to 6 students first work independently on learning objectives, and subsequently report back in a plenary meeting with around 20 students. This puts a strong emphasis on the self-directed and collaborative aspects of learning. To prepare for this, at the beginning of the programme, students do an exercise in group work. They also draw up a Team Charter that describes how they will collaborate.
Stage 5: How are we doing?
This activity aims to get students to reflect on their experiences with PBL, especially those that have been less positive, thinking first about what caused the disappointment, then possible solutions. The activity involves a 10-15-minute individual reflection activity, followed by some 30 minutes of small group discussion of causes and solutions to problems. The tutor’s role (not described in the exercise) is to monitor the discussion and ensure suggestions are collected in a useable form.
Stage 4: Keeping up the spirit
At the MSc Learning and Development in Organisations, learning is based on the principles of constructive, contextual, collaborative and self-directed learning. The constructive and collaborative aspects of learning in particular, are seen as very similar to learning and working in a professional context. In the coaching that is an integral part of this programme, reflection on what is learned and how it is learned become two sides of the same coin. Goal setting and self-evaluation by students concerns the development of competencies and the way in which these are acquired through learning.
Stage 2: Mind the gap to previous experiences
We used a flipped format to deliver PBL information during Introduction days. We set up a canvas course dedicated to Introduction days were students could find all sort of information, including websites, contact information and student manuals related to their selected study programme. Within this canvas site, we added an Introduction days schedule with embedded welcome videos and/or documents. In the week prior to Introduction Days, participants received an email (via Canvas announcements) asking them to go over the event’s schedule on Canvas and watch a ~40 min video with a detailed explanation on how PBL works. During Introduction days the panel was organized as follows:
— Panel chair briefly summarized the main concepts related to PBL
— The tutors/coordinators and current students panelists introduced themselves and shared (informally) their thoughts and experience with PBL
— The chair opened the room for questions from new students
Unlike previous years that used a simple PBL presentation (passive listening), the flipped approach allowed us to provide the factual information before hand and opt for a more active PBM meeting for optimal engagement of participants during the event. Participants asked many questions, often building up from answers provided by the panel. Having a diverse panel answering questions was an added bonus, as the participants quickly realized that different coordinators/tutors might approach PBL differently, depending on the content and focus of the course. The current student perspective was very valuable as they provided examples of how they prepare for PBL and act as chairs or scribes. In Period 2 we asked the new students to provide feedback about Introduction Days and they commented quite favorably about the active PBL panel.
Stage 1: Mapping Teaching & Learning Styles
This activity is designed to get students to compare their expectations of teacher and student roles, with the hope of revealing underlying cultural perceptions so that all are aware of them and they can be addressed. When grouping the students, try to select diverse nationality groups. Time stage A so that students discuss their (national) cultural expectations before learning in detail about PBL. Carry out stage B after they have received some input about what PBL is.